On guarding, security, and keeping it local

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02/22/2008
Though this story is largely about manned guarding and doesn't have much to do with what my readers encounter on a daily basis, there are some issues to ponder here that I think resonate throughout the security industry. The gist is that the town of Flint has chosen Securitas as the guarding firm for its transportation authority over a local firm that's already been providing services, based solely on the lowest-bid criteria imposed upon it by federal mandates (but which the town actually ignored when it awarded the contract two years ago - we'll get to that). First of all: This is security we're talking about! Is this really an area where lowest-bid should rule? I'm thinking perceived competence should reign supreme here. But, we're told: Both companies ranked similarly in an MTA analysis of their abilities and experience, but Securitas had the lower costs. It submitted a bid for services set at about $415,000 compared to Teachout's $449,000 bid. So, assuming it's true that these companies would do equally well protecting the citizens of Flint, we're talking about $34,000 a year in difference. I agree that's significant (half a city clerk, say). But how is that savings realized? Well, through Securitas paying its workers less. Here's the breakdown: Securitas: $14.76 an hour for on-site supervisors, $11.91 for guards. Teachout Security Services: $16.14 an hour for on-site supervisors and $12.66 for guards in the first year with a 3 percent pay raise in the second year. The Securitas supervisor pulls down $30,700, Teachout's supervisor gets $33,571 annually. That seems a little low to me, but I guess I can see why someone would want that job. The standard guard for Securitas, however, would garner just $24,772 annually, vs. $26,332 for the local guy. Those are barely above the federal government's family-of-four poverty guidelines for 2008. The important thing to remember here is that all of these guards will be living in Flint (or surrounding areas). So when I hear a quote like this: "We can't do this based just on the fact that this is a local firm," Foy said. "It all comes down to trying to get the absolute most for the people of this community with the money we have available." Because MTA receives government dollars, it must follow federal guidelines for awarding contracts by hiring the lowest qualified bidder, Foy said. I wonder, Isn't it possible that the way to get the most for the people of Flint is to get them better paying jobs? Isn't it possible that security guards who aren't wondering quite as much where their next meal is coming from might be better at protecting people? Add those two motivators together, and I think a $34,000 difference is pretty negligible. Quite simply, I think there are many more factors that need to be considered here beyond price, but it's easy to understand why so many security vendors and installers compete on price. It's obviously a reality for government work. Maybe some lobbying needs to be done to exempt security specification from some federal guidelines? I understand protecting the taxpayer from graft and fraud, but shouldn't we also consider actually protecting the taxpayer from bodily harm? Or, maybe city officials should just ignore federal mandates in the first place: But in 2006, MTA handed the security contract to Teachout after four other companies, including Securitas, submitted lower bids.